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latino heritage :: Blog

Rock Hall’s Curatorial Director Talks about Rock and Roll and “the Latin tinge”

Friday, August 28: 5:31 p.m.
Posted by Howard Kramer

Jelly Roll Morton, the self-proclaimed inventor of Jazz, spoke of “the Latin tinge” in music. It was always there, as far as he was concerned. It’s also true with rock and roll. In the Fifties in Los Angeles, Latinos there embraced early rhythm and blues and vocal group harmony. Ritchie Valens was a high school kid from the San Fernando Valley who played guitar and was crazy about Little Richard. Consider this – Valens’ professional career lasted barely six months. Here we are, more than 50 years after his untimely death, and his influence can still be felt. He was only 17 when he died. When I look at photos of Valens, I see a pudgy kid with spotty skin and a glowing smile, slinging a Stratocaster and oozing confidence. We have one of his stage outfits on display here in the Rave On case. It’s a two-piece vest and pants set with rhinestones trimming the lapel of the vest. He bought it at Nudie’s, the famous Western wear tailor in North Hollywood. Hank Williams and Elvis Presley wore clothes from Nudie. To me, that sort of encapsulates how cool Valens was. That and his enduring music, of ...

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